ST. JOHN’S MINOR HOCKEY INTRODUCTION

The St. John’s City Minor Hockey Program was first initiated in 1955 by Lorne Wakelin, manager of the new St. John’s Memorial Stadium, under the sponsorship of Branch #1 Royal Canadian Legion.

A pee-wee league for boys aged 10, 11 and 12 years was formed and put into operation at the Stadium in November of 1955. This league was later expanded and a bantam league for boys aged 13 and 14 years was formed in 1957, and sponsored by the Elks Club.

By the 1957-58 season, 420 boys were registered and playing in the St. John’s Minor Hockey Program, and the number of boys increased until 1966 when over 1,000 boys were playing and looking for additional ice time.
About this time, members of the Canadian Legion became disenchanted with many of the problems involved with minor hockey, not the least was the ratio of the small number of hours of ice-time available to the large number of boys seeking a game of hockey. Legion Branch #1 did a most remarkable job of running an open minor hockey system during the first decade of minor hockey in the city. When one records the achievements of good people and groups involved in a great cause, there is always a risk of overlooking someone or an outstanding accomplishment. However, my investigations suggest that the following gave freely of time and energies to the cause of minor hockey during the Legion era: Joe Kearney, Bob Dawe, Herb Wells, Fred Williams, Wilson Butler, Charley Murphy, Andy Joy, Dee Murphy, Hal Ball, John Doyle, Max Keeping, Edgar Squires, Gordon Duff, Duey Fitzgerald, Hubert Sharpe and others.

Coach John Doyle and manager Wilson Butler selected a pee-wee all-star team from the 11 and 12 year olds in St. John’s in 1968, and entered the national pee-wee tournament in Goderich, Ontario. This team also appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in New York.

In 1966, when it was apparent that Branch #1 Royal Canadian Legion would not be in a position to sponsor and operate the expanding minor hockey program in the city, Don Johnson set up a meeting and assembled a group of interested individuals to take up the challenge. Mr. Leo B. Stead offered his services to head up the program. However, Dee Murphy, a prominent city sports editor, was nominated for the top minor hockey executive position from the floor. When the votes were tabulated, Mr. Murphy had been elected president of the St. John’s Minor Hockey Association. Other members of the executive were Ted Withers, Gordon Duff, Albert “Pee Wee” Crane, Herb Dewling and Gordon Mitchell. Others who worked diligently for minor hockey during Dee Murphy’s two terms in office were Mike Squires, Andy Joy, Hal Ball, Duey Fitzgerald and Bert Power.

J.C. Pratt Co. Ltd. sponsored minor hockey for the 1967-68 season at a cost of between $10,000 and $12,000. Approximately 40 percent of ice time available to minor hockey during the 1967-68 season was crowded into the Christmas holiday period. Mr. Murphy found it most difficult to operate minor hockey with the existing facilities and allotted ice time, and did not offer himself for re-election.

Cec Soper, a very successful sports executive in Clarenville, took up residence in St. John’s about this period in time and offered his services to minor hockey. Mr. Soper had established himself in minor hockey circles in Clarenville where he ran one of the most successful operations in the province. He was promptly elected to the top executive position of the association. Executive members were Tom Stone, Don Benson, Jerry Smith and Leo Miller. Others who contributed during this period were Cam Eaton, Jim Lester, Pat Wadden and Ed Buckingham and most of the old guard of faithful minor hockey supporters also aided Mr. Soper. However, after two very trying years with ice time for minor hockey at the Stadium cut to 5 1/2 hours per week, Mr. Soper decided not to seek re-election.

The prospects for the continuation of a minor hockey program in the city looked grim by 1970. However, there were other avenues to explore. The Avalon Consolidated School Board was formed in 1969. This brought together the former Anglican, United Church and Salvation Army school systems in the greater St. John’s area, including several nearby outports – namely Torbay, Pouch Cove, Bauling, Portugal Cove, St. Phillips, etc. – under one common administration for the first time.

Two of the major assets inherited by the new school board were Prince of Wales Arena and Fieldian Gardens. The school board promptly engaged Howie Meeker to develop and direct a recreational minor hockey program to meet the recreational needs of students under the jurisdiction of the new board. Mr. Meeker lost no time, and soon initiated a whole new program involving over 1,400 boys playing regularly in a Recreational and Development System.

Bill Parrott arrived in St. John’s from Corner Brook with considerable knowledge and experience in minor hockey at the local level in Corner Brook, and on the provincial executive. After a short period of observation, Mr. Parrott decided to contact interested, knowledgeable and experienced minor hockey personnel in St. John’s with a view to reorganizing the minor hockey throughout the city. Howie Meeker agreed, verbally, to accept nomination for president of the St. John’s Association if Mr. Parrott would agree to run for vice-president, and that if we were both successful, Howie would exercise the president’s authority and fulfill his duties until an agreeable program was established at the Stadium, and Mr. Parrott would assume full responsibilities for the president’s duties at the Stadium.

We were both elected to the aforementioned offices and we were very fortunate to have the executive offices reinforced with secretary Errol Seaward. Mr. Seaward came to the association with a wealth of experience in all phases of minor hockey. He served as chairman of the Goose Bay Minor Hockey Association prior to coming to St. John’s. Andy Joy was elected treasurer. Mr. Joy came to the association with many years experience in a variety of activities in minor hockey circles. He was noted for his ability to raise money for both hockey and soccer operations. Don Benson, an experienced registrar, was re-elected for a third-consecutive term to the office of registrar. A totally new concept for minor hockey was conceived with the following priorities:

A citywide development program at the three main levels of minor hockey: pee-wee, bantam and midget.

Each team would be given a minimum of 20 games during the schedule, plus playoffs.

Number 1 and 2 would not be sacrificed for formation and development of all-star teams.

One of the first acts of the new executive was to approach the St. John’s municipal council for additional ice time and for funds to pay off pressing bills (over $1,800) incurred by previous executive. The city council agreed to advance $1,000 to meet current pressing needs. The council was assured that if fund-raising operations were successful, a portion of the $1,000 grant would be returned.

A meeting was held with Herb Dewling, manager of St. John’s Memorial Stadium and a member of the Stadium Commission. Mr. Dewling was briefed on the need for additional ice time in order for the association to develop programs at the pee-wee, bantam and midget levels, solely for boys from the Catholic, Pentecostal and Seventh Day Adventist school systems.

Howie Meeker confirmed an earlier offer that the 1,400 boys playing minor hockey under the Avalon Consolidated School Board at Prince of Wales Arena and Fieldian Gardens would practice and play at the two aforementioned arenas at no cost to the association, leaving the ice time at Memorial Stadium free for teams registered with the Memorial Stadium system and playing outside the Avalon Consolidated School system. Both systems would operate within the St. John’s Minor Hockey Association, and interlocking games within leagues in both systems would be scheduled as the program developed.

The city council at first was reluctant to give ice time solely for the use of one or two school systems. However, they eventually supported the program and made extra ice time available at Memorial Stadium. The gain in ice time was extended from 5 1/2 hours per week for 1969-70 to 19 hours per week for 1970-71.

After the number of hours of available ice time was established, the executive agreed to operate 16 teams from the Stadium. Letters were drafted, explaining the plans and sent to every Roman Catholic, Pentecostal and Seventh Day Adventist school offering them ice time, and asking them to contact the executive if they wished to enter teams in one of the Memorial Stadium leagues: pee-wee, bantam or midget.

The Roman Catholic system immediately indicated they were interested in the plan and meetings were held with Father McKenna, principal of Gonzaga High School, and Father Molloy, principal of Brother Rice High School, who in turn called together principals, teachers and physical education instructors for all the schools in the Catholic system that were interested in competing in organized minor hockey.

Six pee-wee, six bantam and four midget teams were formed on a school quota basis. Father Molloy then appointed Brother Doug Kenny as co-ordinator and he assumed full responsibility for assigning coaches, managers and equipment. George Fardy was recruited by Brother Kenny to manage the operation at the Stadium, and Fardy promptly distinguished himself at the role.

St. Bon’s very generously volunteered four hours of ice time per week to minor hockey, and their teams were incorporated into the system. The high school federation made it possible for the minor hockey operation to get started at the earliest date in the city’s history (October 26) by playing a preseason invitational series at Fieldian Gardens and Prince of Wales Arena. This freed an additional five hours per week for three weeks at the Stadium.
When the first puck was dropped to open the 1970-71 minor hockey season, the total weekly ice time scheduled at Memorial Stadium and St. Bon’s Arena was 28 hours per week. Even with the additional ice time, only about 10 percent of the boys in the Catholic school system had the opportunity to play minor hockey. No attempt was made by schools in the Pentecostal or Seventh Day Adventist’s systems to enter teams in the leagues.

By the beginning of 1971, just two months after the new program was initiated, competitive teams in both the Stadium, St. Bon’s and Avalon Consolidated systems had been integrated into interlocking schedules. The leagues consisted of 12 pee-wee, 12 bantam and 10 midget teams.

The High School Hockey League used the most talented minor hockey officials as linesmen, and the added experience gained made them excellent officials to officiate in the minor hockey leagues.

Eric Crocker, the convenor of the Avalon School Program, directed the referee development program within the Avalon system while Andy Joy looked after the officiating at Memorial Stadium.

When the time arrived to select all-star teams in each league for provincial tournaments, the boys were picked at open practices. Otto Woodman and George Fardy prepared the pee-wees, Gary Greenwood and Fred Day trained the bantams, and Bro. Doug Kenny and Andy Joy handled the midgets. The pee-wees and midgets won their respective tournaments, while the bantams were defeated in the playoff game for the championship. The St. John’s Association made application to the Newfoundland Amateur Hockey Association’s minor hockey committee for permission to enter two teams from St. John’s City in each provincial A tournament at the pee-wee, bantam and midget levels. This request was turned down by the parent body and has probably resulted in more ill feeling between St. John’s/the Minor Hockey Committee, N.A.H.A, and other centers than any other single controversy. It continues to be the main point of contention between systems in St. John’s and the wedge that actually divided the St. John’s Association down the middle.

The St. John’s Association received a shocking setback on January 8, 1971 when Prince of Wales Arena was totally destroyed by fire. This sudden change of events was not only disappointing for the executive of minor hockey but for the many boys and girls who availed of the arena for various recreational activities (e.g. minor hockey, figure skating and general skating). This tragedy also put additional pressure for ice time on the two remaining facilities.

Many of the major obstacles had been overcome by the end of the season and the association, with considerable outside assistance, had achieved most of its objectives. The colour of the financial statement had changed from red to black.

The 1971-72 season commenced with a few minor changes on the executive. Bill Parrott was elected president, switching positions with Howie Meeker who became vice-president, responsible for all aspects of the Avalon Consolidated School system. George Fardy became vice-president in charge of Memorial Stadium and St. Bon’s operations. Erroll Seaward returned as secretary with Brother Doug Kenny as assistant secretary. Andy Joy was re-elected treasurer with Bill Delaney becoming assistant treasurer. Don Benson was returned for a fourth term as registrar.

One of the first acts of the new executive was to make application for a Local Incentive Project grant. Howie Meeker and Bill Parrott drew up the proposal for assistance for the total minor hockey program that included the Stadium/St. Bon’s and Avalon Consolidated School Systems. The application was endorsed by St. John’s High Sheriff, Stan Carew. The association received $16,000 in mid December retroactive to October. The majority of the funds were earmarked for supervisory staff (6). However, a percentage was used for ice time, equipment, tournaments and travel. The following personnel were employed at rates ranging from $85 to $100 per week.

Mr. Eric Crocker – supervisor A.C.S.M.H.S.

Mr. Fred Day – official A.C.S.M.H.S.

Mr. Charlie Pollock – official A.C.S.M.H.S.

Mr. Del Kenney – supervisor S.J.M.S.

Mr. Brian Gibbons – official S.J.M.S.

Miss Kim Meeker – statistics & public relations for both systems.

The additional help provided by the L.I.P. grant was greatly appreciated by the executive. It allowed the executive more time to carry out its duties and plan for the future. Additional L.I.P. assistance was offered to the St. John’s Minor Hockey Association by Joe Byrne through the N.A.H.A. This offer was declined as reported under Financing of Minor Hockey in St. John’s. The total number of ice time hours were greatly reduced from the 1970-71 season. The prime reason being the loss of Prince of Wales Arena by fire.

The association did not enter a team in the provincial midget league during the 1971-72 season because 75 percent of the top midgets were playing on high school teams and the players were not permitted to play in both leagues. Extensive travel and expenses were other factors that governed the executive’s decision.

Interlocking games between teams in the pee-wee, bantam and midget divisions of both systems were scheduled again this season, from early January to May. This provided a chance for development and the boys seemed to relish the competition. Otto Woodman guided the pee-wee all-star team in provincial competition, while Bro. Doug Kenny trained and coached the bantam all-star team.

The chairman and every member of the Roman Catholic School Board were contacted by letter early in the season explaining the objectives of the St. John’s Minor Hockey Association and informing board members that 99 percent of the free ice time provided at Memorial Stadium by the city was being passed on to boys in the Roman Catholic System. It also was noted that city council was reluctant to support only one system, and was doing so on the advice of the minor hockey executive. It also was pointed out that the Stadium Commission would be charging a fee of $20 per hour at the Stadium commencing with the 1972-73 season. The Roman Catholic board members were asked to acknowledge the letter and inform the minor hockey association if they were interested in supporting minor hockey within their system. The association’s executive did not receive one reply. This would indicate a total lack of interest on the part of the board members or a reluctance to become involved.

The 1972-73 minor hockey season in St. John’s was probably the most rewarding season of the past decade. The 1972-73 executive was Howie Meeker, president; George Fardy, vice-president, Stadium/St. Bon’s System; Dave Bastow, vice-president, Avalon System; Errol Seaward, secretary; Andy Joy, treasurer; Bill Delaney, assistant treasurer; Al Gosse, registrar; and Laura Gosse, assistant registrar.

The association was successful in obtaining a L.I.P. grant of $16,000+ for the second-consecutive year. This money provided full time supervisors, officials, and public relations personnel as per 1971-72.
The following personnel were employed:

Mr. Eric Crocker – supervisor, A.C.S.M.H.S.

Mr. Fred Day – official, A.C.S.M.H.S.

Mr. Rick Babstock – official, A.C.S.M.H.S.

Mr. Nigel Facey – official, A.C.S.M.H.S.

Mr. Del Kenny – supervisor, S.J.M.S.

Miss Peggy Baker – statistics & public relations, both systems

Miss Baker did a terrific job of public relations, an important part of any successful operation
Ice time at Memorial Stadium was increased from 339 hours in 1971-72 to 404 hours in 1972-73. Prince of Wales Arena was re-opened and ice time at Fieldian Gardens and Prince of Wales Arena increased from 960 hours in 1971-72 to 1,500 hours in 1972-73.

The local detachment of the R.C.M.P. headed by Inspector Cal Bungay operated an open six-team Juvenile League. This league was run well and provided over 100 boys, who normally would not be playing, a full season of hockey. Twenty-five members of the R.C.M.P. became involved in coaching, managing, officiating and time-keeping. The contribution of the R.C.M.P. to minor hockey was greatly appreciated.

Don Yetman, Bill Martin and Dave Riche looked after the pee-wee all-stars who won the provincial championship at Grand Falls. Bro. Doug Kenny, George Fardy and Del Kenny coached and directed the bantam all-star team to the provincial title at Gander.

John Goss, a New Brunswick native, arrived in St. John’s as area manager of Canadian National Telecommunications. He was promptly elected president of the association for the 1973-74 season. George Fardy was re-elected vice-president, Stadium System; Eric Rowe, vice-president, Avalon School System; Al Gosse, secretary; Bill Delaney, treasurer; and Doug Marshall, registrar. Bill Parrott was appointed chairman of the ways and means committee, with Al Gosse, Gerard McNamara, Sobey’s; Ron Maher, Club Commodore; and Willis French, Simpson-Sears, rounding out the committee.

The 1973-74 season started with a bang. The Stadium system and the Avalon School system established their teams and prepared schedules. The ways and means committee promoted a walkathon led by Deputy Mayor Len Sterling. This project raised about $5,000. A minor hockey dance produced $800 and a sale of skate souvenirs brought in $600.

Twenty-three teams representing 12 schools in the Roman Catholic system played at Memorial Stadium while 100 teams played on two ice surfaces owned and operated by the Avalon Consolidated School Board.

Everything seemed to be going smoothly until the time came to pick all-star teams to represent St. John’s at invitational, exchange and provincial tournaments. Both systems became divided because of personality clashes, inexperienced leadership, the inability of executive members to see both sides of the coin, and just plain stubbornness. The irony of the whole thing resulted in the boys having to decide, with complications, which all-star team they wanted to play for, and which system they wanted to represent. The executive, with exceptions, was aware of their shortcomings, but the trouble really started in 1970-71 when the N.A.H.A.’s minor hockey committee failed to detect the growth and evolution pattern of minor hockey in St. John’s and refused to admit that two separate, workable systems had evolved in the city.